I watched a bit of Obsession again, and I have to say, this may be the De Palma film for deep skeptics of his work.
It's not his most technically accomplished film, but it may embody his work better than anything else he's done, in a way that can be seen as critical of his vision (or lack thereof).
De Palma's harshest critics claim he thinks he's Hitchcock, and that he isn't because he lacks the genuine fascination with human behavior (or what makes us human). Some claim he's more interested in duplicating Hitchcock's films than creating anything personal himself.
One of De Palma's favorite films is of course Vertigo, and Obsession is obviously heavily inspired by it. The harshest critics say it's De Palma just trying to remake Vertigo, just as Sisters was a pastiche of other Hitchcock films.
If you believe there's a lot of truth to that, I would say that even though Obsession may be repeating the same approach, the context makes it much more engaging. Mirroring Scottie's relationship to Madeleine, here is De Palma fixated on a film that he not only adores but is compelled to reproduce as closely as he can, short of a straight up remake. If it seems too close to a rip-off, that's the point - it's not lack of imagination so much as a perpetual compulsion on De Palma's part, telegraphed by a scene in Obsession when one of the main characters is working on an art restoration - she wonders if she should try holding on to an original element of the work that is very degraded, and her suitor tells her to "hold on to it." The character is obviously echoing his own inability to let go of the wife he's lost (and will try replacing with a lookalike), but this spells out De Palma's modus operandi with Obsession. De Palma even gets Herrmann again to do the score (and to drive the point home, he used Vertigo's score as a temp track in order to convince a producer to let him hire Herrmann).
At worst, if you were really dismissive of this work, you can say it sounds like a pathetic exercise in trying to replicate a film that De Palma could never approach, giving us a hollow thriller instead of a profound, disturbing masterpiece with a deeply felt tragedy. Scottie trying to revive Madeleine through another woman could be thought along the same terms - that is, what's going on between Scottie and Judy is necrophilia instead of real love. But I think both assessments (of Obsession and of Scottie & Judy) are ultimately wrong. Judy really is in love with Scottie and there's a terrible yet honest sadness in how she allows Scottie to do something so awful to her. I'm not moved by Obsession the way I am by Vertigo, but I find it compelling for what it sees in Vertigo and what it regurgitates. That is, it may not come close to reaching the same heights as Vertigo, but its reach is fascinating.
And thanks to Herrmann, Obsession does have real feeling - as I mentioned in an earlier post, his score articulates beautifully what's going on between the two romantic leads. The best is when Robertson goes back and follows her after work. Not a word is exchanged, he stays behind her. It builds to a marvelous peak, when she goes into her home and he comes out on the street. Watch as he walks and pulls up, and how the music shifts and subtly augments that moment. His back's to you and he's in long shot, but with that bit of walking in synch with that perfect music, you can feel Robertson's heart begin to flutter. And then the killer is when we fade to a shot that drifts down from a ceiling to Robertson, who's in the foreground of a deep focus shot. As that camera floats down, listen to those soft, stray notes plucked on the soundtrack. When we finally land on Robertson (seen in profile, deep in thought), you can feel his mind miles away, thinking only of her.
Watch that scene alone and without music - what's going on is still clear, but you don't feel the intoxicating pull that's swallowing him up. It could be a cold case of stalking that elicits no empathy. That changes with Herrmann's score.